Made up of approximately 1,027 islands straddling the Equator, the Maluku Islands are situated in the north and east of Indonesia, scattered over an enormous 850 000 km² ranging from east of Sulawesi to the north of Timor and south of West Papua. Once prized as the only source of nutmeg, mace and cloves on earth, these scattered islands earned their place in history as the famous Spice Islands.
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With a few low and swampy exceptions, the majority of the Maluku’s are mountainous and forested, some little more than volcanos poking out of the ocean with cities and villages clinging to the coastline. Volcanic activity and earthquakes are a regular occurrence with an estimated 70 major eruptions in the last 500 years.
Maluku’s population is around 2 million with approximately 450,000 living on the tiny, 51km long island of Ambon. Bearing the same name as the island, Ambon city is the capital and main administration centre with a major seaport and airport. Ambon Island lies to the south-west of the much larger Seram Island and is on the northern fringe of the Banda Sea. It is also part of the Lease Island group.
Ambon has a chequered history of Portuguese, Dutch and British rule dating back to the sixteenth century. Between 1610 to 1619, it served as the headquarters of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), prior to them relocating to Batavia (Jakarta). Old forts and armouries are scattered throughout the islands, melancholy remnants of times past. The island was also occupied by the Japanese during World War II.
Economic and religious tensions flared throughout much of the archipelago from 1999 to 2002. Initially considered to be caused by political and economic factors, the unrest and fighting soon became a religious battle between Christians and Muslims. Many lives were lost and an estimated 700,000 people displaced. The conflict came to an end in February 2002 with the signing of the Malino II Accord.
Today the islands exude a peaceful charm. With beautiful beaches, diving, volcanoes, countless tiny islands and villages along with architecture and fortifications dating back to the years of European rule, the Maluku Islands have something for everybody.
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